03 October 2009

First Impressions: Zombieland

Holy crap. What a movie. You should read the following post with the knowledge that I've been a fan of zombies for some time now. That is, sometime before it became cute and kitschy for all college student wannabes to dress up like zombies and pretend kill each other. Yea for our times they are but undead, for our souls may no longer rest their heads. Hmm. Interesting stuff.

I have planned a much more thorough look at the current Brain-Eating Zeitgeist (tomorrow, hopefully) so for the purposes of this post I will attempt to concentrate solely on the merit of this single film. And shit, it's a doozy. Spoilers abound, dear readers.

Zombieland has a very interesting tone that at any given moment swings from looney to sentimental to terrifying. A lot of the zombie terror tends to be tongue-in-cheek, although not nearly to the extent of Shaun of the Dead (2004). In fact I did notice the either intentional or not ambiguity as to whether or not these zombies were actually undead. There was very little reference to them being raised from the grave or not, and were also frankly very easily killable. This stands in high contrast to the nearly immortal zombies of companion horror/comedy, Return of the Living Dead (1985). See? I know my shit, son. It was kind of disappointing to see zombies die from merely a high fall or shotgun blast to the CHEST (arguably this just may have just slowed them down, but during the final amusement park scene a lot of them did not get up after). Either way, these zombies were pretty unique, and that fit the story in some respect, somewhat lowering the unbelievability of escaping a tremendous zombie assault. This has obvious drawbacks, ie, how did the reaction get out of control if they are easily killed (just lack of double taps?), but I feel safe that this movie knows it's a goofy comedy at heart and that shit doesn't matter nearly as much as the fun ride. And almost of all movies I've seen in 2009, this may have been one of the funnest.

It starts with a great Watchmen-esque (2009) opening that accurately depicts the hybrid terror/gory/funny mood of the movie. From then on, we meet a charming young man (Jesse Eisenberg doing his best Michael Cera impression) and go on a whirlwind adventure through American Zombieland. One zombie genre trope that the filmmakers active avoided, which I was grateful for is the notion that in the Zombie Apocalypse, danger is everywhere and any venture out in the open is immediately life-threatening.

This is the entire plot device for Day of the Dead (1985) and is also the major restriction on both versions of Dawn of the Dead (1978 and 2004) and Shaun of the Dead, among countless, countless others. Zombieland instead treats us to a tour of the apocalyptic nation, primarily the Southwest, stretching roughly from Austin, TX to Los Angeles, CA. The characters are primarily outside and the zombies are an ever present threat to sneak up on them, but it finely shows a world where the few remaining humans have adjusted to living in Armageddon. I don't want to say this was a realistic way of depicting the zombie takeover, but it sure is refreshing.

Coming off this, there is this steady theme in the film about the freedom and restrictions gained from living out the Apocalypse. There are some great scenes in the Indian gift shop as well as the simple running notion that ultimately, any car, piece of clothing or mansion in Zombieland is up for grabs. It's the kind of cool freedom that is ultimately unfulfilling when your entire family and hometown is burned to the ground. Thus a second large theme is the adaptability of humanity and their struggles to make new families. Which is neat. Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) push their new freedom to the test when they attempt to play in their own private amusement park. The restrictions of their new world (a shitload of hungry zombies) comes crashing down upon them, and they are saved by their new family. Thus, we learn that freedom is good, but too much of it is shitty, but your family bails you out. Well, that was easy. Let's move on to the fun stuff:

I love how no character in this movie has an actual name. It's pretty stunning actually to see credits list about seven actors and stop. Even the hot girl neighbor zombie (Amber Heard) is known only as "406." It shows the kind of detachment the world of Zombieland bestows upon its residents. Of course, there is one named character in the film, an incredible cameo by Bill Murray, which is absolutely spectacular. I don't even want to ruin it for those reading out there who might not have seen it yet, but that whole sequence is worth the $9 tickets.

I feel like I'll talk about my issues with running zombies in my wider post, but know that I think they suck and we'll leave it at that. Zombieland is chock full of guts-out sprinting man-eating bastards, which dominates the current zombie film stock, so whatever.

Really this movie is all about fun and craziness and it's absolutely perfect that it ends at the Amusement Park. It's such a thrill ride that ups the ante by not only having its characters fight off zombies, but they fight them off while riding roller coasters. I should mention Woody Harrelson at this point, I need to write him a profile this week, he's definitely appearing to me as an underrated actor and a great entry into the Temple of Badass with Tallahassee. Back to the Theme Park, the fear of being inside a fake haunted house chased by actual zombies is pretty cool, too, probably one of the scariest parts of the film. It's a really fitting end to a film that is an amusement ride in itself. Now I'm going to check my backseat of my car and be off.

Good day.

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